Boxing


The Time Tunnel: "No Mas" - Twenty Five years on, a look back at Leonard v Duran II

09.12.05 - By James Slater: It was one of Sugar Ray Leonard's sweetest nights. Not only did he gain revenge for his first loss as a pro, but he did so in a manner that was totally unthinkable at the time. Indeed it still seems unbelievable all these years later, when one watches the fight on tape.

Leonard's face was practically everywhere by 1980, he had become America's darling by capturing gold at the '76 Olympics in Montreal and the ascension to world title honours was swift in coming. Only three years later he defeated Wilfred Benitez to take the WBC welterweight title, but then he signed to fight a man who was the antithesis of his very being.

Roberto Duran, "Hands of Stone" as he was known, had come up the hard way. A street fighting hard man from Panama who the word tough could have been invented for is the man who famously is reported to have KO'd a horse with a single blow! Now he was in the opposing corner from the charming, loveable kid from America..

Duran made no bones about the fact that he disliked Leonard, going so far as to graphically insult him and his wife Juanita with some vulgar finger gestures. Ray was shocked, he later admitted, and his game plan was to be seriously compromised. Duran had succeeded in what he'd set out to do. Now firmly under Leonard's skin, battle commenced.

Leonard's machismo got the better of him and he stood and fought with Roberto. Big mistake. The silky skills Ray had would have served him much better but he fought with his heart not his head. Fifteen rounds later his title was gone. "Hands of Stone" now held the welterweight championship.

Even as his victory was being announced Duran was still raging. He completely refused to give Leonard any respect as the previously undefeated star tried to shake hands. Duran was at his nastiest indeed on this night. A true giant already, Duran had now reached the pinnacle of his illustrious career, capturing his second world title.

But then came the rematch.

What happened five months later, in New Orleans, no one could have possibly predicted. Beforehand most experts expected a repeat of the first fight. Duran was too strong and experienced, they argued, and once again Leonard would be sucked into a brawl and manhandled to defeat. The first encounter was tagged "The Brawl in Montreal" but the second fight would come to be known as something else, a tagline that would become infamous in boxing history.

The fight started off pretty much uneventfully (at least compared with what was to come) with Leonard using a little more movement than before and Duran again advancing, concentrating all his efforts on cutting off the ring. But then, in an audacious change of tactics, Leonard began show boating. This wasn't merely a case of playing to the crowd or buying time, this was a carefully thought out strategy. In a display of absolute boxing genius, akin to Ali's rope-a-dope, where again seemingly foolish tactics were employed that shocked and amazed by being successful, Ray Leonard defeated Roberto Duran.

Knowing he couldn't out tough him Leonard had to get inside Roberto's head. He out psyched him by taking a huge gamble. Duran was suddenly faced with something he had never even dreamt he would ever encounter; an opponent who was literally playing with him. Ray dropped his hands, made faces, threw bolo punches and generally made Duran look silly. No one had ever dared do this to Duran before. The fact that Leonard had the nerve to try something like this was bad enough but the crowd was now laughing at Duran and cheering on his tormentor. Duran's guts sank, his brain started blowing fuses left, right and centre. He simply could not take this. No man had ever done anything to hurt him like this, he could take the punches but not the humiliation.

He threw up his hands and muttered the now unforgettable words, "No Mas." The fight was over. At first no one, not even Leonard or referee Octavio Meyran, were certain what was happening. Leonard thought it was a ploy by Duran and threw some more punches before Meyran, finally realising that Duran was indeed serious and wanted out, signalled the finish.

The crowd was stunned. Larry Holmes, doing commentary seemed in a daze and said, to no one in particular, "I don't understand this, I don't understand this." He wasn't the only one. Quizzical expressions abounded and although Sugar Ray had just regained his welterweight title, this wasn't the headline that would be dominating the articles written by any of the reporters at ringside. What Duran had just done seemed next to impossible. Such a great warrior meekly quitting in ring centre was an incredibly hard act to fathom. Immediately the questions started.

Why had Duran quit?

He wasn't hurt, he hadn't been wobbled. In fact it had been quite close on the score cards at the time of the bizarre finish, one judge only having Leonard up by a solitary point. Duran initially claimed stomach cramps were the reason he'd been unable to go on but no one was satisfied with this lame excuse.

In fact Duran has said many things regarding the "No Mas" fight that certainly seem to indicate how much the fight still bothers him to this day and how he has tried to cope in living with it. For example, this year, Roberto claimed he never actually said "No Mas" after all. He said that there is no way Howard Cosell, who first publicised the mutterings of Duran, could possibly have heard what he said, all that way on the other side of the ring. One could argue Duran may have some credibility with this claim but the second statement he made this year is thoroughly outlandish. Duran told Sports Illustrated that he quit on purpose because he knew he wasn't in top shape but that he would be in the rubber match! Is Roberto serious when he says such things or is it indeed proof of how deeply Ray Leonard's ring actions penetrated his psyche, the memory of which continues to haunt him? I suspect the latter.

After the bout, however, Leonard's unprecedented boxing skills did get the credit they deserved as slowly but surely it sank in how he had simply out psyched a bully. It wasn't all plaudits for Ray though. He was to be angry for some time due to the glory of his victory being over shadowed by all the attention being focused on Duran's surrender and not on his having made him do so. To some Leonard hadn't really beaten Duran, Roberto had simply taken the easy way out and quit. But taking this attitude is also to take the easy way out. What Leonard did fully deserves to be placed up there with Ali's great win over Foreman as a display of one off boxing genius.

A rubber match the following year would no doubt have pleased many but unfortunately it would be nine long years before these two met again. Duran was shattered by what had happened and he lost a lot of fans due to his actions. He had to deal with the ignominy of having his house sprayed with insulting graffiti, put there by former supporters who felt betrayed by their one time hero.

Roberto did regroup in time, going on to relieve Davey Moore of his light middleweight belt in 1983 and winning his fourth world title in 1989 by out pointing Iran Barkley for the middleweight title. This win earned Duran a third go at Leonard for Ray's super middleweight championship. By then though both men were only imitators of what they'd once been and a dull bout dragged on to the echo of boos for twelve rounds. Leonard won a wide points victory. It was a sad end to the super fights of the '80's that Leonard and Duran, along with Thomas Hearns and Marvellous Marvin Hagler had exhilarated us with.

After "No Mas" Sugar Ray unified the welterweight titles with another great win, this one over "The Hitman", Thomas Hearns. He had been forced to retire due to retina trouble shortly thereafter only to come back, of course, in 1987 and cement his greatness with a stunning upset of Marvellous Marvin.

Yet both he and Duran couldn't go out on top and only after humbling defeats at the hands of Terry Norris and Hector Camacho did Sugar Ray finally retire. Duran soldiered on throughout the '90's and into the next decade before a car crash forced him to hang 'em up too. Both men rightfully have unique places in boxing history but despite all the other heights they aspired to in their careers, the image one has when their names are mentioned together is that shocking night twenty five years ago when the great Duran was made to say "No Mas" by the even greater
Leonard.

Article posted on 09.12.2005



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